Tuesday, August 20, 2013

One of the Most Beautiful Chapters of My Life

After three years of guiding LOTEM's weekly nature club in Shehafim for children with physical and intellectual disabilities, Ori Golan recalls some of the moments that moved him the most.

I came to Shehafim for the first time in October 2010. The Shehafim school is a 10 minute drive from Kiryat Shmona. Towering in the background is the Hermon Mountain, full of majesty and splendor, surrounding vast fields. The Hula Lake is not far in the distance.

I describe in words the view against which the school rests, since this is the view that the children see every day on their way to and from the school. This is the environment where they live and this is what they are used to.

When I began to lead the nature club in Shehafim I understood quite quickly that it was my desire to bring all this beauty to the club, to relate to the local nature that surrounds the school and mainly to pay attention to all its details.

It was important for me to work with the calendar and the changing seasons, to show the children what was currently growing in the adjacent field and what we can do with the fruits of the trees and the vegetables of the ground. This is how we learned about wheat and bread, cotton and clothing, walnuts and fruits and vegetables. We became familiar with animals that live in the surroundings. We learned about snow and rivers. We learned about leaves and puddles. For three years we learned about different topics. Sometimes we would repeat a topic that was successful. Sometimes more than once.

I remember that the first week I started, I debated whether or not to bring my guitar (I am not a professional guitar player and sometimes I will play a wrong chord). I do not regret the decision- even when Shlomo Artzi plays on the stage in Caesarea he does not receive such accolades that I received in Shehafim, each time I arrived with the guitar in hand. There I had fans to whom it did not matter if we were on the right note or if all the words were correct. The main thing is that we enjoyed. For every topic in the world there is a song, so for every weekly club I could connect a song to the topic we were learning. A song on vegetables, a song on rain and summer, songs on animals and more.

I tried to work with "local materials", such as, pine cones, reeds, nut, leaves, thorns, citrus fruits, wheat, cotton, acorns and more. I tried to bring nature to the classroom and sometimes when the conditions allowed, we even left the indoors and went out to nature. We prepared tea or weaved wheat or prepared candied walnuts and once we even prepared pita bread over an open fire.

I try to remember the moments when I was especially moved and I don't think there was a club when I did not feel moved.

When we cracked nuts with our shoes and we heard the snap of the broken nut and we laughed so hard- I was moved because I knew that this was the first time in the children's lives that they cracked a nut. What every child is used to for them turned into a whirlpool of sounds, textures and tastes.
When we walked barefoot on the sand or on dry leaves and we felt with our feet what every other child is privileged to feel, when we peeled grapefruit, when one of the children suddenly did something funny and we all laughed.

When the children helped one another, when they told me that they had fun. When they were so happy when I arrived and when we parted when I went.
Each time I saw a girl in a wheelchair who cannot stand or speak or essentially take part in any activity but she would watch and listen and then when we would sing she would suddenly dance with her hand and head- then I was especially moved.

Each of these amazing things I was able to do thanks to the incredible help and willingness and unending patience from the staff of the school.

I will finish and say that it was not easy in the beginning but from week to week my heart became tied with the amazing children and the wonderful staff and each week I would come to the nature club and would renew again with positive energies.

Without a doubt I will treasure the years in Shehafim as one of the beautiful and enriching chapters in my life.

Thank you to the staff of LOTEM who was the main forces behind this, for the help and enriching encounters and for this wonderful opportunity.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Teaching high-tech agricultural practices to the world

The Arava International Trainee Center, or AICAT for short, is located in the desert settlement of Sapir. It is a 20 year old training facility attended by students from developing countries throughout Asia and the Far East. These individuals almost all have university backgrounds in agricultural subjects and they come to Israel with the blessings (and often the financial backing) of their home countries.  Their purpose is to learn how to grow their crops under unfavorable conditions using the successful techniques practiced on farms throughout the dry desert Arava.

That farmers in Israel are able to grow lush, fertile, beautiful crops in the middle of the hot and dry desert is nothing less than a modern day miracle. The techniques used by Israeli farmers are taught both in the classroom and through practical experience. Students study at AICAT for the period of a year, during which they live on various settlements (Moshavim) in and around Sapir. They are paid by the farms where they work, they are given the opportunity to tour Israel, and they develop a community of other like-minded students during their time abroad. When these students return to their home countries, they are natural ambassadors for Israel, and they bring back with them the skills and knowledge to increase agricultural productivity.

Over the years, the Center has received students from various Asian countries, including Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, Vietnam, Laos, Philippines, India, Ethiopia, Southern Sudan, Jordan and Tibet. As the number of participating countries increases and the center becomes the global hub for agricultural training, the student population will more than triple over the next five years bringing the need for a larger campus.